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Morris v. Sutton

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 28, 2019

JOHN SUTTON, Defendant.



         Currently before the Court is Plaintiff Jennifer Morris' ("Plaintiff) motion to file an amended complaint, filed May 22, 2019, requesting leave to substitute D. Standiford, A. Ball, and D. Silva-Escobar as Doe Defendants 31, 32, and 33, as well as Doe Defendants 51, 52, and 53. (ECF No. 34.) Defendant John Sutton ("Defendant") filed an opposition on June 4, 2019. (ECF No. 36.) Plaintiff did not file any reply to Defendant's opposition. The Court found Plaintiffs motion for leave to amend suitable for decision without oral argument pursuant to Local Rule 230(g), and on 17, 2019, the Court issued an order vacating the scheduled hearing. (ECF No. 37.) Having considered the moving and opposition papers, the declarations and exhibits attached thereto, as well as the Court's file, the Court issues the following findings and recommendations recommending that Plaintiffs motion for leave to file an amended complaint be denied.



         This action involves the murder of Jason Morris ("Morris") while he was incarcerated and awaiting formal classification by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("CDCR") at Wasco State Prison. (Mot. Am. First Am. Compl. ("Mot.") 1, ECF No. 34.) Morris was a convicted sex offender placed in the Sensitive Needs Yard, and Plaintiff alleges that Morris specifically told CDCR officials that he needed a higher level of protection because of fears for his safety due to the nature of his offense. (Mot. 1-2.) On January 1, 2017, Morris was moved from a dorm setting into a cell. (Mot. 2.) Approximately ten days later, on February 1, 2017, an inmate named Michael Beardsley ("Beardsley" or "Inmate Beardsley") was placed in the cell with Morris. (Id.) Six days later, on February 7, 2017, Beardsley beat Morris and eventually strangled him to death. (Id.)

         Plaintiff Jennifer Morris filed this action on November 3, 2017. (ECF No. 1.) On April 9, 2018, Plaintiff filed a first amended complaint, the operative complaint in this matter. (First Am. Compl. ("FAC"), ECF No. 15.) Plaintiffs FAC brings causes of actions for: (1) violation of civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (2) violation of California Civil Code § 52.1(b); (3) negligence; and (4) wrongful death. (FAC 1.)

         Defendant filed an answer on April 19, 2018. (ECF No. 17.) On August 15, 2018, the Court issued a scheduling order setting among others, the following deadlines: 1) motions to amend the pleadings to be filed by January 14, 2019; 2) non-expert discovery cutoff-off of March 29, 2019; 3) a dispositive motion deadline of June 28, 2019; and 4) a trial date of November 5, 2019. (ECF No. 23.) In the scheduling order, the Court also set a status conference to be held on February 14, 2019. (ECF No. 23.) On January 23, 2019, the Court ordered the parties to advise the Court of any issues that needed to be addressed at the February 14, 2019 status conference or advise the Court if the conference should be vacated or continued. (ECF No. 24.) On February 1, 2019, the parties submitted a joint response stating the parties had conferred regarding the need to hold a status conference and agreed that there were no issues that needed to be addressed by the Court, and requested the February 14, 2019 status conference be vacated. (ECF No. 25.) On February 4, 2019, the Court vacated the February 14, 2019 status conference. (ECF No. 26.)

         On April 10, 2019, Plaintiff filed a motion to reopen discovery and extend discovery deadlines in this matter. (ECF No. 28.) On May 13, 2019, the undersigned issued an order denying Plaintiffs motion to reopen discovery in this matter, and such order is currently pending review before the District Judge on Plaintiffs motion for reconsideration. (ECF Nos. 32, 33.) On May 22, 2019, Plaintiff filed the instant motion for leave to file an amended complaint which is the subject of this findings and recommendations. (ECF No. 34.)


         Once a district court has entered a pretrial scheduling order pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 16 setting a deadline for amending pleadings, the district court is to first apply Rule 16's standard for amending the scheduling order if the deadline to amend has passed. Johnson v. Mammoth Recreations, Inc., 975 F.2d 604, 607-08 (9th Cir. 1992); United States ex rel. Terry v. Wasatch Advantage Grp., LLC, 327 F.R.D. 395, 403 (E.D. Cal. 2018). If the party seeking amendment can satisfy the good cause standard of Rule 16(b), the district court then must determine whether the moving party has satisfied the requirements of Rule 15(a). Wasatch Advantage Grp., LLC, 327 F.R.D. at 403-04.

         A. The Rule 16(b) Good Cause Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 16(b) provides that the district court must issue a scheduling order that limits "the time to join other parties, amend the pleadings, complete discovery, and file motions." Fed.R.Civ.P. 16(b)(1)-(3). A scheduling order "may be modified only for good cause and with the judge's consent." Fed.R.Civ.P. 16(b)(4). The "good cause" standard "primarily considers the diligence of the party seeking the amendment." Johnson v. Mammoth Recreations, Inc., 975 F.2d 604, 609 (9th Cir.1992). To establish good cause, the party seeking the modification of a scheduling order must generally show that even with the exercise of due diligence, they cannot meet the requirement of that order. Li The prejudice to other parties, if any, may be considered, but the focus is on the moving party's reason for seeking the modification. Id. If the party seeking to amend the scheduling order fails to show due diligence, the inquiry should end and the court should not grant the motion to modify. Zivkovic v. Southern California Edison. Co.. 302 F.3d 1080, 1087 (9th Cir. 2002) (citing Mammoth Recreations. 975 F.2d at 609). "Relevant inquiries [into diligence] include: whether the movant was diligent in helping the court to create a workable Rule 16 order; whether matters that were not, and could not have been, foreseeable at the time of the scheduling conference caused the need for amendment; and whether the movant was diligent in seeking amendment once the need to amend became apparent." Wasatch Advantage Grp., LLC. 327 F.R.D. at 404 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted) (alteration in original).

         B. The Rule 15 Standard for Amending Pleadings

         If Plaintiff can meet the good cause standard to modify the scheduling order under Rule 16, Plaintiff must then satisfy the standards under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a). Wasatch Advantage Grp., LLC, 327 F.R.D. at 403-04. Twenty-one days after a responsive pleading or a motion to dismiss is filed, a party may amend only by leave of the court or by written consent of the adverse party. Fed.R.Civ.P. l5(a)(1)-(2). "Rule 15(a) is very liberal and leave to amend 'shall be freely given when justice so requires.'" Amerisource Bergen Corp. v. Dialysis West, Inc.. 465 F.3d 946, 951 (9th Cir. 2006) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)). Leave to amend under Rule 15 is "within the sound discretion of the trial court," and "[i]n exercising this discretion, a court must be guided by the underlying purpose of Rule 15 to facilitate decision on the merits, rather than on the pleadings or technicalities." United States v. Webb, 655 F.2d 977, 979 (9th Cir. 1981).

         However, courts "need not grant leave to amend where the amendment: (1) prejudices the opposing party; (2) is sought in bad faith; (3) produces an undue delay in the litigation; or (4) is futile." Amerisource Bergen Corp., 465 F.3d at 951 (citations omitted). Previous amendments may also be considered. See Nunes v. Ashcroft, 375 F.3d 805, 808 (9th Cir. 2004) (listing "whether the plaintiff has previously amended his complaint" as a fifth factor); Bonin v. Calderon, 59 F.3d 815, 845 (9th Cir. 1995) (same). The factors are not weighed equally. "Futility of amendment can, by itself, justify the denial of a motion for leave to amend." Bonin, 59 F.3d at 845. Undue delay, "by itself... is insufficient to justify denying a motion to amend." Owens v. Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc., 244 F.3d 708, 712 (9th Cir. 2001) (quotation marks omitted) (quoting Bowles v. Reade. 198 F.3d 752, 757-58 (9th Cir. 1999)). "[I]t is the consideration of prejudice to the opposing party that carries the greatest weight." Eminence Capital LLC v. Aspeon. Inc.. 316 F.3d 1048, 1052 (9th Cir. 2003). "Absent prejudice, or a strong showing of any of the remaining [ ] factors, there exists a. presumption under Rule 15(a) in favor of granting leave to amend." Id. Here, Defendant does not consent to an amendment to the complaint. (ECF No. 36.)

         IV. ANALYSIS ...

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